Judging from the Fall Classic exhibitions, the proposed format would seem to decrease the importance of positional specialists. In addition to returning the ball to play immediately after goals, there are no long poles and players who traditionally stick to just offense or defense must be adept on both ends of the field.
“From a stamina perspective, midfielders have an easier transition because they’re going from going 120 yards to 70 yards,” U.S. midfielder Marie McCool said. “I love watching the attackers out there. They crushed it this weekend. I have no doubt they can do it. They’re so athletic, and they’re great riders. Also the defenders, I joke around that some of them have the best shot. It always goes in, because they’re not trying to shoot it as hard as they can. They’re just trying to place it. … Although it’s a midfielder’s game, you definitely have to have the mindset of some attackers and defenders on the field to keep that balance.”
Of course, some of the sport’s most dynamic players currently operate almost strictly within the confines of the restraining box. They may not play as prominent a role in the new discipline.
“For guys who are world-caliber players that are defensemen, they might not get a shot to play in the Olympics,” Manny said. “A guy like [two-time U.S. team defenseman] Tucker Durkin would not be good in that kind of style, because you have to be able to play some offense, unless you’re subbing all the time. You take away the pole from him, and it’s a completely different game.”
Said U.S. men’s assistant Seth Tierney: “As much as I love Trevor Baptiste and all those faceoff guys, you’re only going to take four faceoffs, so you’re probably not bringing a faceoff guy to the Olympics if it gets through. It’s not going to sway the end result.”
After a goal, the goalie immediately takes the ball out of the goal and has five seconds in which to restart play. Sometimes the team can start a fast break quickly, but defenders are learning to get back quickly after a score.
“You’re always thinking next play,” Mercer said. “The goalie clears the ball right out of the cage, and you’re trying to proactively think, what are you going to do next? You don’t have that time to walk back to the circle and get ready for the draw. You don’t have that mental reset. You have to learn as the game’s going and take your mental reset as you’re playing, which favors the full athlete and that mindset.”
Another rule change rewards the ball to whichever team did not touch it last when it goes out of bounds, and even a missed shot can result in a turnover if the goalie does not touch it. It does not matter who is closest to the ball when it goes out of bounds.
“It forces you to get a good shot off,” McCool said. “It’s very similar to basketball in my opinion.”
There were no shot clock violations in either Fall Classic exhibition played under the Olympic trial rules. Forty-five seconds proved to be more than enough, and perhaps too much, time to get a shot off.
“The shot clock could have been even lower,” U.S. attackman Marcus Holman said. “It could have been 30 seconds. I just like that sense where it’s non-stop action. It’s not like current international rules, where there’s no shot clock and you have no clearing time. It forces things to happen, and it forces you to take chances, maybe to make a pass you wouldn’t make or try a shot that you wouldn’t normally try.”
One of the more controversial changes does not allow collisions in the men’s game. The exhibition abided by that rule.
“It would have been a little more physical if there was something on the line,” Holman said.
Said Hossack: “They were aiming to prevent injuries, but I thought the ball moves quickly enough that there won’t be much contact. I don’t think they really needed to take it out.”
On the women’s side, the Olympic trial rules have evolved the concept of shooting space and placed the responsibility for safety on the shooter.
“We want to have the opportunity to play a more free-flowing style of lacrosse,” said Dana Dobbie, an athlete representative on the Blue Skies Working Group. “That’s what I was most excited about seeing, taking away shooting space, taking away three seconds, and allowing the female athletes to be as creative as possible and use their creativity and stickwork in a way we haven’t been able to do yet.”